Vanguard // Unrated // $29.95 // September 30, 2003
Review by Don Houston | posted October 26, 2003
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Movie: Thanks to the nice folks over at Vanguard Cinema, I've been lucky enough to see a lot of Polish movies lately. Apparently, they entered into some sort of deal to obtain a large catalog of titles that have, on average at least, been exceptionally better than much of their independent releases in recent years. From dramas to comedies, the movies often touch on some aspect of life that is universal in their appeal. In the latest release, Zemsta (AKA: The Revenge), famed director Andrzej Wajda breathed a bit of life into a popular Polish stage play from long ago, some of which was similar to old Bill Shakespeare in how it all worked out.

The movie is set in 17th Century Poland, in a small town. Two families from lesser nobility occupy a small castle, each taking residence in their own half. One side is owned by a former warrior and the other by a Notary (apparently, such positions were more important back then) and his family. Each side has a legitimate claim to their portion of the structure and, of course, each side hates the other, at least the head of household from each side. The warrior has a daughter that is sought after by a variety or suitors yet she, of course, loves the Notary's son who, in turn, loves her back. If you're thinking Montague and Capulet, we're on the same wavelength as one another.

As each side attempts to gain control of the castle by a variety of means (no holds barred at that), the kids are trying to work out some way to get together. Early into the show, the Notary attempts to get his son married off to a local widow of some means who happens to be the same gal the warrior wants for himself. The warrior hires an emissary, Papkin (played by famed director Roman Polanski), to woe the women, as his skills on the battlefield far surpass his ability to court a busty young gal, and for much of the movie, this man is the focal point of the movie.

Papkin, an effeminate noble, is long on tongue and short on action but will serve his new master well. His imaginary skills are routinely proven to be just that and eventually he tries to play each side against the other (to a small degree). With various intrigues taking place, the two scheming families attempt to get what they want, even as the children seek to undermine said plans. In the end, you always suspect how it will turn out but getting there s half the fun.

The movie adapts the stage play very little with almost all of the scenes taking place in rooms that would be easy to see as fitting on a small stage. In short, there was little by way of expanding the original play beyond the vision of the playwright but that's okay since it was designed that way. The performers, Polanski included, all seemed well suited to their roles here although the subtitles seemed to be creatively choosing what limited bits of information the audience was to learn. The actors could ramble on for quite a while and the subtitles would have very little content. I'm guessing that something was lost in the translation but it was still fun to watch. In short, if you want to see a bit of light humor in the vein of an ancient play, this was certainly a good choice.

So, what do I rate a play that is transformed into a movie but keeps all its roots? Well, in this case, I'm going to give it a rating of Recommended. While the acting appeared to be good (it's tough to tell since I don't speak Polish), and the technical qualities above average for a small budget foreign film, it lacked a spark to give it more. The fact that the extras were in Polish didn't help my assessment since a bit more work could've made the entire DVD more accessible to a large audience. It was good, just not great and that was probably what Wajda was shooting for here.

Picture: The picture was presented in 2.35:1 ratio widescreen color. It had some grain and minor video noise at times as well as a few minor print flaws but overall it looked very clear. I didn't see a lot of artifacts or other problems with the compression but there were a couple moments of shimmer, relating to patterns.

Sound: The audio was presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital Polish with optional English subtitles. For the most part, it sounded clear and crisp with a fair amount of separation between the channels. I did have a problem with the subtitles not showing up on a cheaper RCA DVD player but my Toshiba had no difficulties in that regard, nor did a mid-line Sony.

Extras: The extras included a lengthy Behind the Scenes feature but sadly, it was in Polish without English subtitles. There were also trailers, cast and crew biographies, a short welcome to North America feature (again, in Polish), a double-sided DVD cover and a short on the title credits/animation sequence.

Final Thoughts: The movie was interesting and I intend to watch it again. I just wish the extras were in English or that some kind of accommodation was made for English speakers since that's the best way to market such films overseas (as in: the American market). It may never be a big seller here but there was plenty to enjoy for people all over the world and limiting its appeal prematurely makes little sense in my eyes. The technical aspects were solid and the content decent so it's worth the recommended rating but fans of Wajda'a work may want to give it an even higher rating.

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